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Season of the Dragon

Don Jessop

How good horses show their bad side and what to do about it.

Did you know that parrot owners often complain about their amazing birds being so soft and sweet until one day..., somewhere around early teens, the parrot turns into a monster. The sweetest thing, turns rogue. Fortunately, it's a documented experience and few people give up on the bird because they know it will come around and be that sweet thing, once again. Hormones change everything. But there are other factors too.

Horses, unfortunately, are not well documented through their seasons and it often shocks or surprises people when it happens.

Did you know that your typical true-blue, four-legged partner is statistically likely to have a tough season, behaviorally speaking, somewhere around two, six, ten, and once or twice in their teens? It varies for every horse and some never express challenges, but most do. Even the most sane, safe horses can have a small window, of anywhere from a few days to a few months, partly depending on the owner's competency to address the challenges, where they act like a dragon.

I'm quoting one of my students here in a recent conversation. "Do you remember when my sweet mare was a total dragon for a whole summer?" I certainly do. And I thank you Kay for giving me the title to this article. I see it too often to bypass the obvious patterns in horses, and I feel compelled to share with you the stats about horses, and also, how to get through the "season of the dragon," in case that's where your horse is now.

First, the reason lots of people like geldings opposed to stallions and mares is their hormones don't tend to fluctuate so much, giving a more stable, predictable, behavior from your horse. It's not always true, however. If you've been around for a while you've seen exceptionally stable stallions and mares and very unpredictable geldings.

So, what gives? Seasonally, we know horses can change their behavior, and not always just from hormonal influences. Sometimes it's weather that spurs an extra bit of excitement or lethargy. Changing environments can also spur on unpredictable behaviors. I once had a perfect kid's horse, only to realize that was only true at home. Out and about she'd be zoomy and frantic, especially if her friends weren't nearby.

Changes in herd dynamics create challenges too. Changes in just about anything, even unseen things, can create a monster out of your horse. And coming full circle, there's a little documented experience of time that changes everything.

Normally, we think time cures all problems, and generally, in good hands, it does. But time also changes a horse on the inside. It's hard to predict when your perfect partner will try on the dragon scales, but it's likely to happen at some time in his or her lifetime, and statistically, more than one time.

The more adept you are at reading those changes and addressing them, the more efficient you'll be and getting through them. My wife's horse, Ready 4, for instance, (cool name, right?), has shown that dragon side a couple times now. And he's just ten years old. But the duration of his "dramatic inner dragon" was short, very short. Rachel skillfully navigated his testy behavior without ever getting frustrated or backing down.

You see, there are three main leadership points here:

1. Don't be surprised by sudden changes in your horse's behavior. Only a naïve or novice horse owner would expect perfect all the time.
2. When your horse does act different, address them calmly and with leadership. Don't back down and don't get frustrated.
3. Be patient, it's not a long term thing. You don't have to sell, or buy a new horse, or buy every supplement under the sun. Just stay the course and watch him or her come out of the funk.

The last thing to address here is physical soreness or lameness. Pain can often be unseen, and cause huge personality shifts in your horse. I strongly suggest getting a vet to do a thorough check if you suspect pain could be part of the seasonal change. You'd be surprised at how you can still do basic level activities to maintain the relationship, even in spite of pain. Simple things, like maintaining boundaries, basic responses, and yielding, and reinforcing the bond during training. Those things will ensure your horse traverses this dragon season efficiently. It's always the folks that feel too sorry for their horse that second guess the basics, allowing them to do unproductive things, it's those folks that stay in the dragon season for months and years, or eventually sell their horse because they can't believe how's they'd changed for good to scary.

In summary, if you're in the "season of the dragon," embrace a little hope here. You're not alone. It happens to everyone. We can support you and get your horse elegantly beyond this season.

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Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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